Nothing like pulling your boots out of the stirrups, leaning back and stretching in the saddle. Drinking hot coffee up there? That’s sure fun, although, for some of you newer suburbanites, don’t drink soy. It eats through both leather and horse.
Just five days before Christmas and we’ve got winter weather like we’re in the Bahamas. Someone tell Tom Frew the first official day of winter is tomorrow and remind him to set his clocks back 3.47 hours.
C’mon. We’ve got an absolute great ride ahead, into the back canyons of Santa Clarita history, legend and lore. Find someone you’re fond of and ride next to them. No “accidental bumping” or too much laughing. It’s still a small town and people talk.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
CAN ONE DO SOMETHING SILLY LIKE FOUNDING WOODS? — On Dec. 20, 1892, the San Gabriel Forest Reserve was founded. It would later be called the Angeles National Forest. You know. All those woods and wilderness surrounding us?
TIRES ME TO THINK ABOUT IT — This week, 100 years back, E.M. Chaix opened up the town’s first vulcanizing shop in Newhall. Today, they’re called tire stores. That was back in the days when tires had tubes and you patched them with heat, glue and whatever was handy. By the way. E.M.? Great granddad of Chrissy Haskell. Wife (as of press time) of my pal, former Fillmore mayor and Mighty Hart High Indian Ernie Villegas.
GOING TO THE MATTRESSES — Although his businesses were in San Fernando, Will Noble was a frequent advertiser with The Mighty Signal. He was holding a holiday mattress sale. We might also point out that Will’s family ran the mortuary business down there. Makes you kind of wonder where some of those beds had been.
DECEMBER 20, 1920
OUR WORLD-FAMOUS LODGE — On this date, Rudolph Nickel, former publisher of the Acton Rooster, sold his famed Acton Hotel to a Mrs. D. Beaucamp from San Francisco. The Acton Hotel was quite the resort, and presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover stayed there. Interestingly, in the early days of statehood, Acton was considered as a possible state capital location.
A BIG WIND A-BLOWIN’ — A century ago, ice cold winds blew through the valley. The power pole next to Mr. Brazee’s house crashed down. Watering troughs and ponds froze over and pipes burst.
ENDS UP MARRYING A NEW YORKER — The Presbyterian church was the scene of a Betty Compton movie. The church was used for a big wedding scene, and the company left behind a lot of cash in the small village. Betty? The former Ziegfeld Follies girl ended up marrying New York Mayor Jimmy Walker in 1933.
SO. JUST HOW, EXACTLY, DOES A CAVEMAN MAKE LOVE? — Speaking of local movie stars, Buck Jones, who would later own what would become Saugus Speedway, was starring in a flick filmed locally — “Firebrand Traverson.” Check out this little film snippet describing Buck: “He defied conspirators, made love like a caveman and he won out.” Small trivia? Buck died at the famous Coconut Grove Fire of 1942, along with 491 other victims, including my uncle, Fred Sharby.
DECEMBER 17, 1925
THE INFAMOUS ACTOR/BANK ROBBER — It was as wild a shootout as we’ve ever had in these parts. Just a week before Christmas 1925, Jenks Harris and his gang went looking for extra holiday spending money. Harris was a silent film actor who scouted the location while filming the Universal movie, “Confidence” earlier in Piru. First kidnapping the bank manager and his young daughter, Jenks’ gang robbed the Piru bank of $11,000. They drove the pair to L.A. and were later dubbed “The Kind-Hearted Robbers.” After little Mary Ella complained that the guns frightened her, the robbers put them away and also covered her in a warm coat. As members of the gang were rounded up later, one was shot to death by lawmen. Besides being a film actor, Jenks was later found to be the leader of a human smuggling ring, a narcotics peddler and a bootlegger.
THE BANK THAT WAS ROBBED TWICE — Interestingly, that same bank would later be “held up” in the 1999 bank heist comedy, “Happy Texas.” Despite bombing at the box office, it’s a funny movie.
DECEMBER 20, 1930
SITTING ON A BLACK & GOOEY FORTUNE — Government had its eyes on old A.M. Dunn’s ranch for years. On this date, Warden Houlahan of San Quentin and Warden Court Smith of Folsom paid a visit to Castaic to inspect the Dunn Dairy farm as a possible prison site. Years later, the county would use eminent domain to force Dunn out of his ranch so they could build a minimum-security prison that would be called Wayside Honor Rancho. Almost the day after they forced Dunn into selling his farm, the county discovered massive oil deposits there and made a small fortune leasing it out to oil companies. Dunn, for some odd reason, waited too many years to sue. Decades later, Wayside would be upgraded to a maximum-security facility and be called the Peter Pitchess Detention Center.
WE AIN’T LION — Carlton Thompson had a literal rude awakening at 2:30 a.m. We were having one of those not-uncommon December heat waves and Thompson was sleeping on his front porch in the middle of Newhall. He awoke to hear panting, which he thought was from the neighbor’s German shepherd. ’Twasn’t. Thompson whistled to call what he thought was his pal puppy and was rather startled to find it was a mountain lion. The puma roared, then took off for parts unknown. That’ll get the blood pumping.
DECEMBER 20, 1940
TODAY, WE’D BE ACCUSED OF SIZEISM — This newspaper called it: “The Mystery of The Big-Footed Lady of the Woods.” Sheriff’s deputies found a complete woman’s ensemble — skirt, blouse, nylons, brassiere, panties and size-9 shoes — neatly folded near Sand and Soledad canyons and placed nicely on a rock. No woman around to claim them and no one seems to recall seeing a naked lady wandering about Canyon Country. Well. Around Christmas of 1940, that is.
AND BEAUTISM? — Local good-looker Nils Granlund made LIFE magazine as Queen of the Saugus Rodeo.
DECEMBER CAN BE A DARN STRANGE WEATHER MONTH — One day, it can flirt with 100. A smidge later, it’s snow boots time. A huge rainstorm pelted the Santa Clarita, dropping 5 inches in a day. The same storm blanketed the hills above Castaic with 14 inches of snow. While the Ridge Route was shut, local ranchers were rather happy at the drought-ending storm.
IT AIN’T HAY, ALTHOUGH, WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IT IS — Someone’s always picking on Newhall Land & Farming, darn them. Sixty years back, right before Christmas, crooks made off with 100 bales of new mown alfalfa, valued at about $90. Sure would be nice to buy it for that in the year 2020.
IT’S A SHAME WHEN YOU CAN’T READ YOUR OWN BOOK — Superstar actor Bill Hart and his sister, Mary, released their newly published book, “And All Points West,” on this date. It was a collection of short stories they had penned. Hart returned from New York for an eye examination and was prescribed some sunglasses.
BACK WHEN SAND CANYON WAS A PRISON — We had a lot of work and prison camps in the valley during The Great Depression. One detention camp, at Sand and Soledad Canyon, moved after 12 years in the same spot. The county pushed it up to Maher Canyon.
DECEMBER 20, 1950
WOULDN’T WANT TO BE FIRST ON THE SCENE. NOR THE LAST. — They don’t pay the CHP enough. John Waryas was driving his coupe at a high rate of speed, roared around a blind curve and smashed into a slow-moving double-rig. The engine was thrown 75 yards from the crash and Waryas was cut in half. And yes. He was quite dead.
NO PIGS HERE, PLEASE — A motorcade of more than 500 SCV cars rumbled through downtown Los Angeles and around the county hall to protest a proposed mega-hog ranch in Canyon Country. The American-Pacific Livestock Feeding Co. wanted to place 50,000 swine to consume garbage in our neck of the woods. The mass protest of several thousand got the attention of the Los Angeles papers and the Regional Planning Commission didn’t grant the permit.
DECEMBER 20, 1960
SHIVER ME TIMBERS. AND TUMBLEWEEDS. — Nighttime low, 60 years back — 21 degrees and colder in the canyons.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, METHODISTS!! — They moved into their new church on Bouquet on this date.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, 14ers — On this date was the dedication for construction of the new Antelope Valley Freeway. Lots of folks were in an uproar because of a rumor that the new 14 would go right through the historic Beale’s Cut. It didn’t.
AS THE MAFIA SAYS, ‘GOING TO THE MATTRESSES’ — George Young expanded the definition. The Newhall drunk driver was chased by local sheriffs for dangerous driving. They followed him to his home and found him hiding under an old mattress in the garage. The big lump must have given it away.
THAT’S WHY OUR WATER’S SO THICK — As the valley grew, so did its sewage problems. With hog, cattle and horse farms, oil refineries and outhouses, people illegally dumping all manner of trash, toxic to plain annoying, our disposal problems hit critical mass and the state stepped in to at least make the appearance something was being done. One of the problems was that all this refuse was flowing into the water table. On this date, locals got together to form the first SCV sanitation district.
DECEMBER 20, 1970
HAND. HEINIE. WHATEVER IT TAKES. — A young quail hunter got a firsthand — er, first-posterior — impression of what it’s like to hunt quail. Ricky Griffis, 15, was out hunting the birds with a pal in Agua Dulce. Griffis bagged a bird, got excited, started jumping up and down and somehow stepped in front of his friend’s shotgun. Griffis got shot in the butt with some buckshot. His wounds were treated as superficial. As the old Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck bit goes: “Quail season. Griffis season. Quail Season. Griffis season.”
DECEMBER 20, 1980
WITH APOLOGIES TO THE FAMED POLISH POLKA — “In Heaven, there ain’t no beer. That’s why we drink it at Canyon.” Student participation dropped 300% at Canyon High’s after-sports dances. Sometimes fewer than 100 kids would show up. Principal Don Jerry blamed it on a new phenomenon — keg parties.
A CHRISTMAS FABLE FROM A LONG-GONE SPORTS WRITER — Some young Signal Sports editor named Walt Cieplik Jr. was at the drive-up teller’s window at then-Santa Clarita Bank on Lyons (today, it’s Valencia National Bank & Trust). Master Cieplik took the old-fashioned plastic pneumatic tube container and found that the lady who had gone before him had left her Christmas budget of $150 inside (in today’s money, that’s about a million dollars). Cieplik chased the woman all over town, honking and gesturing wildly. Frightened, the woman sped up, trying to avoid the handsome paragraphist. Miles away, the sports editor caught up with her at a light, waved the envelope of cash she had left behind and handed it to her. She broke down crying.
Fights. Floods. Revolution. Man-eating grizzlies. Shortened hemlines. Life certainly has a way of going on. Do hope all of you saddlepals have a positively divine Christmas and holidays. Be dear to one another. That swirling time vortex up ahead is our particular stop. See all y’all after Christmas Day back here at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post. Until then —vayan con Dios, amigos y Feliz Navidad y Hanukkah!Pretty darn soon, Boston is launching his own publishing house, John Boston Books. The first of a three-volume set is “Ghosts, Ghouls & Monsters of the SCV.” In the meantime, you can buy Boston’s “Melancholy Samurai,” “Naked Came the Sasquatch” and other of his books on Amazon.com or bit.ly/John_Boston. If you liked the book, wouldn’t mind at all if you left a kind 5-star review.